Welcome back to the Power Rankings.
A big three sits atop the flag race but the ladder is so tight, they’re not the only ones who can win it. And the team right on top faces a problem with the system itself.
What are the Power Rankings? This is our attempt to rank every AFL club from best to worst. We take wins and losses into account, but also the quality of opposition faced and whether teams are likely to get healthier or improve going forward. It’s a little bit ‘who’s hot and who’s not’; part predictive, part analysis of what’s happened. If Team A is above Team B, we’d probably tip A to beat B at a neutral venue this weekend.
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1. GEELONG CATS (17-4, 139.7%)
Last week’s ranking: 1
The Cats have a bit of a problem; the finals bracket works against the minor premier, after the first week anyway. The top team gets an easier qualifying final but then a harder preliminary final – if results go as expected, the prelims end up as 1st vs 3rd and 2nd vs 4th. In five of the last six years the team that won the 1st vs 4th qualifying final has lost its home preliminary final – in the same time frame, the 2nd vs 3rd qualifying final winner is 4-2 in its home prelim. So while the Cats are likely to get Collingwood or Fremantle in their qualifying final – and they’ll be favoured – if they win, they’re likely to get one of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Richmond as a prelim opponent. By comparison the 2nd vs 3rd qualifying final winner is more likely to be hosting Collingwood or Fremantle. Look, it’s the finals, you’re gonna get tough opposition no matter what, and this is the ultimate complaining-about-success thing… but we know what we’d prefer.
Next game: West Coast Eagles at GMHBA Stadium, Saturday twilight
2. SYDNEY SWANS (15-6, 128.3%)
Last week’s ranking: 3
We’ve thought the Swans were amongst 2022’s elite for a while now – effectively since the start of their six-game winning streak – but the ladder finally reflects their rise. Up into second and in the box seat to host a qualifying final, their closest win over this purple patch was by 17 points (aka a blowout in a Collingwood game). They’ve ironed out some of the issues that made them inconsistent and vulnerable to upsets, including losses to Essendon, Port Adelaide and Gold Coast in the middle of the season. We don’t know if they’re on Geelong’s level but they may not have to be until a Grand Final.
Next game: St Kilda at Marvel Stadium, Sunday twilight
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3. MELBOURNE (15-6, 127.7%)
Last week’s ranking: 2
The Demons clearly aren’t the team they were when they started 10-0, but they’re still pretty damn good, escaping with the four points from a Carlton side that played up to the occasion last Saturday night. For all of the concerns about their attack, they’re averaging 87 points across the course of the season and 87.2 points over the last five weeks which includes games against 11th, 9th, 8th, 6th and 5th, so they’re not that far off their season-long pace (even if it’s been pretty ugly). Combined with a defence that remains pretty dour – the Bulldogs and Magpies had to kick especially straight to beat them – the premiers are still in that top tier of contenders. But the reality is if they don’t win this Friday night, which would be entirely understandable given the Lions’ form at home, they’re probably facing Richmond in an elimination final. That’s how fine the margins are.
Next game: Brisbane Lions at the Gabba, Friday night
4. BRISBANE LIONS (15-6, 124.1%)
Last week’s ranking: 5
They weren’t exactly convincing last Friday night against the Saints but they’re not far off a home prelim and a golden opportunity at a Grand Final. No, really. Beat the Demons, which is entirely possible at the Gabba where they feel like a six-goal better side, and then beat presumably Sydney in a qualifying final at the SCG. They won by four goals in that exact fixture back in Round 7, when they were really flying offensively, so we know they can do it. But of course if you lose to the Dees, you’re almost certainly getting Richmond in an elimination final at the Gabba, and that’s bloody scary. Again – the margins between success and failure for the top four or five teams this year are so, so tight. We think the Lions are a step below where they need to be to win the flag, but they’re close enough that a Grand Final spot is not beyond them. And from there anything can happen.
Next game: Melbourne at the Gabba, Friday night
5. COLLINGWOOD (15-6, 104.4%)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Well, we had to be right at some point if we kept writing “Collingwood will lose someday, we promise”. It certainly didn’t feel like a five-goal loss against Sydney but in reality, with a couple of injury blows, the Magpies were nowhere near having the scoring power to win that game. (And that’s not because of the size of the SCG. The idea the ground is so small as to impact game style is such a fallacy.) If they beat Carlton they’ll make the top four, and clearly they can give anyone a fright in the finals, but now that they’re actually playing quality opposition every week let’s see how they fare. No team with a percentage as bad as theirs has ever made the top four (in the top eight era) and then beaten a team above them on the ladder in the finals. For example, the 1997 Bulldogs finished third with a percentage of 101.8 and made a prelim, but under the weird old finals format where their first final was against sixth.
Next game: Carlton at the MCG, Sunday afternoon
6. RICHMOND (12-8-1, 118.7%)
Last week’s ranking: 7
As frequent readers of this column know, we’ve been Richmond believers for a while – the whole ‘being 9-8 with a draw after three winless weeks’ thing forced us to drop them a bit – and when you look at the big picture it’s not hard to see why opposition clubs might be frightened of them come September. The Tigers’ combined losing margin in all of their losses since Round 7 is 15 points. Throw in the draw against Freo, and they’re three goals from being undefeated since Anzac Day. So yeah, they’re pretty good. They’re also going to have to win four ‘away’ finals to win a flag – though at least a couple would be at the MCG – but if anyone is capable, it’s them.
Next game: Essendon at the MCG, Saturday night
7. FREMANTLE (14-6-1, 116.4%)
Last week’s ranking: 6
In a way it’s relaxing knowing things are out of your control. The Dockers will either lock in sixth spot by losing to GWS, or keep their top four hopes alive by beating them in the nation’s capital, at which point they have to wait until Sunday to learn their fate. They only need one result to go their way – either Carlton beating Collingwood, or St Kilda beating Sydney. If we say the Blues are 50-50 to beat the Magpies, and the Saints are 30-70 to beat the Swans (which seems fair?), add it up and that’s an 80% chance one upset happens. And that upset gets Freo into fourth. And from there, well, we’ve seen what they can do as underdogs against Geelong in a qualifying final, haven’t we?
Next game: GWS Giants at Manuka Oval, Saturday early
8. CARLTON (12-9, 108.8%)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Well, here we are. The good news is last week showed the Blues are good enough to play finals; as we’ve suspected for a little while, their best is good enough to challenge most of the top eight. So if they get into September, they may be able to cause some brief damage. And heck, the way the finals bracket is shaping up, they might get an easier elimination final in eighth than they would in seventh. But it’s going to be an incredibly nervous wait until roughly quarter-time of their game against the Magpies, at which point they’ll know what they have to do. Either Blues fans will be going nuts in the crowd having seen the score from Tasmania… or they’ll be terrified.
Next game: Collingwood at the MCG, Sunday afternoon
9. WESTERN BULLDOGS (11-10, 107.9%)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Hopefully for the Bulldogs’ sake they got their look-bad-but-still-win game out of the way before Round 23’s must-win clash with the Hawks. As long as they win by a few goals, Carlton will need to win to stay above them; we’d put their odds at around 30 per cent of making it (60 per cent to beat the Hawks, and 50 per cent for the Blues to lose). Of course given the talent on this list there’s no way the Dogs’ season should’ve come down to such small margins. And it’s hard to argue they’ll be enormous threats in an elimination final, which likely would be at Optus Stadium against the Dockers, or against a current top-four team.
Next game: Hawthorn at UTAS Stadium, Sunday early
10. PORT ADELAIDE (9-12, 107.1%)
Last week’s ranking: 10
It’s utterly ridiculous that the Power have a better percentage than Collingwood, a team that has won six more games than them. We’re not saying that proves Port Adelaide is better – we’re happy to put some respect on the Magpies’ name after their winning streak – but they’re not much worse. We have absolutely no doubt next pre-season, when we write our annual Pythagorean wins article, we’ll be explaining why Port are primed for a rebound. That column didn’t do too well for 2022, because there weren’t any outliers in 2021 on the scale of Port Adelaide or Collingwood this year.
Next game: Adelaide Crows at Adelaide Oval, Saturday night
11. ST KILDA (11-10, 100.1%)
Last week’s ranking: 12
As frustrating as it was to see the Saints cough up a potential win because of goalkicking against Brisbane – and we’ve seen plenty of those losses from this group in recent years – that’s not the main point that needs to be made. Is this where this group peaks? Sure there’s some young talent, but still nowhere near enough, and from a list profile perspective they’re building for success now. And their percentage of a bang-on-average 100 – which should dip below that mark assuming they lose to a Sydney side playing for a top-four spot – shows they’re nowhere near success. They made the decision to recruit for this period and it does not appear to have worked. That may mean more pain is coming before more pleasure.
Next game: Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium, Sunday twilight
12. GOLD COAST SUNS (9-12, 99.1%)
Last week’s ranking: 11
It’s yet another disappointing ending to a season for the Suns, though having played five games decided by seven points since the bye, it could’ve easily been quite a bit better. They look almost certain to match their best ever win-loss record, and with their best ever percentage. That’s the real step forward – from 76.8% to what should be a bit over 100% assuming they beat the Kangaroos. That’s genuinely great progress.
Next game: North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium, Saturday afternoon
13. ADELAIDE CROWS (8-13, 88.9%)
Last week’s ranking: 15
Three wins in a row – even if the last two were kinda-close games against the bottom two – see the Crows moving up past their bottom six rivals who’ve battled in recent weeks. Really, it’s incredibly close between 13th to 16th, but at least Matthew Nicks’ men are ending the year on a high. It guarantees another year of growing their win total.
Next game: Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, Saturday night
14. HAWTHORN (8-13, 90.5%)
Last week’s ranking: 13
It had been a pretty strong five weeks to fill Hawks fans with confidence for the future – four wins from five games plus a big fightback to scare St Kilda – but their side looked horrendous at times against Richmond. Thankfully for their sake, Essendon played like they did a few hours later and distracted everyone. The Hawks have a surprisingly big role on a dramatic last day of the season, able to play party poopers and ruin the Bulldogs’ hopes of knocking Carlton out of the eight. For the neutral it’s probably more interesting if the Hawks lose – so Blues-Magpies is win-and-you’re-in – but Sam Mitchell wouldn’t care about making the neutral happy.
Next game: Western Bulldogs at UTAS Stadium, Sunday early
15. GWS GIANTS (6-15, 85%)
Last week’s ranking: 16
With likely just one game left in Mark McVeigh’s stint as coach – Adem Yze is viewed as the strong favourite to land the full-time job – we’d just like to give McVeigh credit for the way he’s handled the role. Not just the spinning of the magnets but the way he’s spoken. It’s been great to see a coach willing to speak so frankly, whether about his players, the club’s issues with retention or anything else. Perhaps the interim tag allowed it but either way, it has been incredibly refreshing.
Next game: Fremantle at Manuka Oval, Saturday early
16. ESSENDON (7-14, 85.4%)
Last week’s ranking: 14
There is nothing that can sum up our thoughts on Essendon’s performance against Port Adelaide better than this.
Next game: Richmond at the MCG, Saturday night
17. WEST COAST EAGLES (2-19, 61.2%)
Last week’s ranking: 17
The Eagles would need to lose by at least 100 points to have any chance of dropping below North Melbourne on percentage and earning Pick 1. Of course, they lost their two games at the Cattery last year by 92 and 97 points, so…
Next game: Geelong Cats at GMHBA Stadium, Saturday twilight
18. NORTH MELBOURNE (2-19, 56.5%)
Last week’s ranking: 18
Just one more week, Kangaroos fans, then you’re into that blissful period of optimism known as the off-season. At least there’s nothing to stress about externally… wait, who’s chasing Clarko?
Next game: Gold Coast Suns at Marvel Stadium, Saturday afternoon